How does society create rebellion for itself?

The last hope: an uprising?

An hourglass is the symbol of Extinction Rebellion. The radical demands of the new climate movement are very realistic, if you look at the dwindling CO2-Budget. (Photo: Jana Eriksson / XR Sverige / Wikimedia Commons)

"This movement is based on research," says Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion (XR). Hallam is the mastermind of the "Revolt against Extinction". The starting point of his research is the realization that conventional forms of protest such as demonstrations and petitions had no influence on the British government's climate policy.

However, there is one method that in the past has often led to a radical change in policy or even the overthrow of governments: mass, strictly nonviolent, civil disobedience - a peaceful uprising.

This has been shown, for example, in the struggle for women's suffrage in Great Britain, in the civil rights movement in the USA or in Gandhi's struggle for India's independence.

Since the climate crisis has meanwhile reached the point where the continued existence of mankind is in danger, from Hallam's point of view only one choice remains: "The question 'How do you solve the climate crisis?' ultimately means: 'How do you mobilize people to rebel?' "

Exactly this question is therefore at the center of the "design" of XR. How do you get innocent citizens to break laws and get arrested for doing so?

The first item is the legitimation here. People need to be convinced that they are doing the right thing. XR derives the legitimation for the uprising from three factors: the urgency of the crisis, the lack of other options for action and natural law. This knows a "right to rebellion" when the government refuses to protect the lives of its citizens.

The official "Declaration of the Insurrection" of October 31 last year blames the government for the insurrection: "We declare null and void the social contract that the government has suspended by its failure to act appropriately. " For XR, a peaceful uprising is not only necessary, but also legitimate.

The second element To mobilize thousands of people, actions like sit-in, where anyone can simply break a law. The radicalization of people to the point where they are ready to be arrested takes place not before the action, but through the action, says Hallam.

"My entire doctoral thesis can be summed up in three words: Action creates mobilization." A "dramatic narrative" emerges through action, according to Hallam. "You have to create political drama, which is ultimately moral drama that brings out the immorality or injustice of the matter."

The best-known XR action, the ten-day occupation of four London intersections in April, succeeded: The record number of arrests generated political drama and drew attention to the underlying moral dilemma: more than a thousand were arrested to keep traffic rolling again and the Destruction of the planet can continue.

Consensus and truth in the climate crisis: Truth becomes a "revolutionary concept" when the gap to social consensus becomes too large. (Graphic: Roger Hallam / Christian Mihatsch)

The third element to mobilize is "Truth as a Revolutionary Concept". "Tell the truth" (about the climate crisis) is also the first of XR's three demands.

Usually the social consensus and the real truth are close together (Graphic on the right). In the case of the climate, however, this is no longer the case, says Hallam. The consensus here says that it is enough to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement.

From an XR point of view, however, the truth is that there has long been a climate emergency and greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero as quickly as possible. Those who share this view can be mobilized. Hallam believes that there are many people "waiting for someone to come and tell the truth".

Changing the Political System: Citizens' Assemblies

The XR truth does not only mean that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced to zero by 2025 if possible and that the extinction of species must also be stopped, as the second XR requirement says. From XR's point of view, representative democracy has also failed because it allowed the climate crisis to escalate for so long.

The third XR demand is therefore a major change in the political system: assemblies of drawn citizens should be made available to parliament. The model is an Irish citizens' assembly that recommended abolishing the strict ban on abortion and introducing same-sex marriage. Both were then approved by a large majority in referendums.

When it comes to the climate, Hallam is convinced that a citizens' meeting would also call for radical measures that politicians shy away from. "Ordinary people have to decide whether they want to live or die. If they want to die, that's okay. But you can predict that people don't want their children to die."

In Germany, XR is still sometimes perceived as a colorful fun guerrilla who is a bit more radical than Fridays for Future. But nothing could be further from the "truth". XR is a carefully planned insurrection that ultimately aims to change the political system to deal with the climate crisis. Gail Bradbrook, the second leader of XR, therefore also says: "I don't organize protests. I organize an uprising against my government."